I have to admit that I was never much of a pie person until very recently.
“I mean, really,” I would ask pie-lovers, “What is it if not just an oddly-shaped fruit (or veggie) sandwich? Apples and cinnamon between two layers of crust. Blueberries between two layers of crust. Pumpkin between two layers of crust.” Bah.
Oh, but that was just my cynical self, the one with pie envy, talking. Once I learned to produce a truly great crust, all my counter-crust sentiments dissolved, like butter under your fingers.
Traditional pastry, it seems, relies on the unique chemistry between cold fat and dry flour, cut into little bullets of butter or lard that subsequently melt and expand while baking, thereby creating pockets of air space. If you’re not using solid fat in the mix, the crust simply doesn’t work out the same way, even if you DO refrigerate it; it just never achieves the same degree of tender flakiness. As a result, I never had much success with pie crust. And because I don’t use margarines, the option of Earth Balance isn’t a possibility for me, either.
Every time I used to attempt a pie, I’d end up feeling a little like Jan, the “less-than” sister of the Brady Bunch: all I could do was clench my fists and wail, “Crust, Crust, Crust!!”
Well, once I discovered vegan baking and nut-based crusts, those floury flakes lost their ability to bully this baker! Even though I don’t make them very often, I now truly enjoy a good vegan pie, and the crust is just as appealing to me as the filling (though I still favor non-fruit fillings).
After experimenting with various combinations of ingredients, I was completely euphoric to discover that a mixture of ground nuts and oats, with a healthy sprinkling of flour added in, served as an ideal base for vegan pie crust. With that discovery in hand, there was no stopping me! First, I made variations on traditional fruit-filled versions; then I moved on to explore pumpkin or sweet potato fillings; finally, I graduated to the much-loved vegan chocolate mousse and other “cheesecake” fillings. But what next? (“How about a dog-friendly pie, Mum? You know we love your crust!”)
Well, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am either blessed or cursed with the strange ability to remember numbers of all types–phone numbers or addresses that I’ve encountered once, weird statistics (like, did you know that 1 in 3 Americans can’t properly decode a bus schedule?), or single numerals from something I learned long ago (for instance, all I now recall from high school chemistry, a course in which I excelled at the time, is Avogadro’s Number: 6.02 x 1023 ). Similarly, I do remember that Pi is 3.14 (more or less)–though of course, I’ve never had a single occasion to make use of that fact.
Except for now! As it turns out, Kitchen Parade is hosting a Pie/Pi event this month: “Pi Day: Recipes for Homemade Pie.” Well, that suited me just fine, as I’m now happy to participate with both types of “pie/pi.” And I immediately thought of the perfect filling for my entry. (“Yay! A pie for us! What a great Mum!”)
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was recently fortunate enough to spend a week testing out my new cookbook, Vegan Express by Nava Atlas, and fixed my sights on the very last recipe in the book, Butterscotch Mousse Pie. Butterscotch is one of my favorite flavors after chocolate–and guess what? This pie has both! Soft and airy, the filling is a cross between a mousse and a custard, with a butterscotch flavor well represented by brown rice syrup and butterscotch extract. It was a big hit with my HH , who is normally a cow’s dairy kind of guy. (“But Mum. . . you know we can’t have chocolate. . . Aw, Mum, crust, crust, crust!”)
Nava has kindly allowed me to reprint the recipe here, so I’m going to copy it verbatim from the book (with any adjustments I made in square brackets beside the original instructions). I gussied it up a bit with my own version of whipped cream (the recipe for which I’ll post anon), so hope you like it!
To make the entire pie gluten-free, just use a GF pie crust; the filling and topping are both already gluten free.
Butterscotch Mousse Pie
Nava notes: “As I mentioned in Butterscotch Apples, I adore this seductive extract. If you do too, the scent of the pie as it bakes and cools will drive you mad. And I can almost guarantee that the rich flavor won’t disappoint. You can find good-quality graham-cracker crusts in natural foods stores or the natural foods section of supermarkets.”
Makes one 9-inch pie. Six to eight servings.
One 16-ounce tub silken tofu [I used an equivalent amount of firm-silken Mori-Nu]
1/3 cup cashew butter
1/3 cup brown rice syrup [I used a bit more, as we preferred it a bit sweeter--about 1/2 cup]
2 tsp. butterscotch extract
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
One 9-inch vegan chocolate graham cracker crust [I used my own crust--recipe below]
2 Tbsp. dairy-free chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. rice milk
1. Prepare pie crust if making from scratch.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F.
3. Combine the tofu, cashew butter, rice syrup, butterscotch extract and vanilla in a food processor and process until creamy and completely smooth. Pour the mixture into the crust.
4. Combine the chocolate chips and rice milk in a small saucepan and heat gently. Whisk together until smooth. Or, combine the chocolate chips and rice milk in a small bowl, heat in a microwavae for about 45 seconds or until melted, then whisk together.
5. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the pie. Using a spoon [I used a knife], gently create swirl patterns.
6. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pie feels set in the center. Cool competely, then serve. If time allows, chill before serving. [I chilled the pie about 2 hours before topping with "cream" and serving. ]
Buttery, Rich Oat-Nut Pie Crust
This version, while unlike a traditional pastry crust, is nevertheless rich-tasting, and crumbles delicately, melting beautifully on the tongue.
(“We do love this crust, Mum! Maybe just a taste of this part–??”)
1/2 cup (55 g.) whole barley flour
1/4 cup (60 ml.) ground flax seeds
1/2 cup (120 ml.) whole rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup (60 g.) walnut pieces
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2-3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml.) sunflower or other light-tasting oil
In a food processor, combine the flour, flax, oats, nuts and salt until you have a uniform, fine meal (there shouldn’t be any detectable bits of nut in it, though you may see bits of oats).
Drizzle the maple syrup and oil evenly over the top, then pulse a few times just until well-blended and the mixture comes together. It will be a soft dough, a little sticky, but not so sticky that it adheres to your hand when you pat it into the pie plate (if it’s too soft or sticky, sprinkle with another tablespoon or two of flour and mix in by hand).
Press the dough into a lightly greased 9″ pie plate and flute sides if desired. Dock the crust by poking holes with a fork evenly over the surface.
For pre-baked crusts: Bake for 15-25 minutes at 375F (190 C), until golden brown throughout.
For crusts that will be baked with the pie: prebake for 10 minutes at 350F (180C), until the crust begins to puff a bit and appears dry on the top.